Schools concert 2016


Saturday 5th March

Loughborough Endowed Schools spring concert
De Montfort Hall

Tonight’s programme would have been a challenge for a professional orchestra; but 400 school students gave a performance of which many professional choirs and orchestras would have been proud.

Students aged from nine to eighteen delivered an impressive selection of musical delights; in the first half works by Sibelius, Chaminade, Grandjany, Warlock, Karrick and Monti; then, in the second half, Mozart’s Requiem.

What we saw tonight was just how much music education has advanced over the past forty years. This country has no shortage of opportunities for young people to demonstrate their musical talent, from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain through to regional and city orchestras and in the choral sector The National Youth Choir, several for children and the many church-based groups and choral scholarships of our prestigious academic institutions. For young musicians there is much to aim for. What stands out is that, here in Leicestershire, we have a music tradition that clearly rates highly at a country-wide level.

Tonight’s programme began with Alla Marcia from the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius. This well-known piece is one of the great lollipops of the classical music repertoire. A delightful confection of jaunty melodies offers a good start to a programme, although, I suspect, the youthful musicians were not quick to warm up, as some of the playing tended to be somewhat plodding and lacked the vigour and sparkle that you would hear from more seasoned performers. Even so, the piece rolled off the stage with satisfying precision and commitment. Flautist Emilie Harlow joined the orchestra for Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino. Now in year 13 at Loughborough High School, Emilie has performed with the National Schools Symphony Orchestra and is a member of the National Youth Wind Orchestra. Emilie gave a delightful and engaging performance of the 1902 work by the French composer whose concertino is an examination piece for flute students. Few would contest that Harlow passed with flying colours.

The stage was rearranged for the next piece, performed by the 16 or so members of the string ensemble. Harp soloist Aoife Miralles joined them for Marcel Gandjany’s Aria in Classic Style giving a vibrant and charming delivery of this piece by the French-born American composer. This was followed by three movements from Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite based on Renaissance dance tunes.

The items on tonight’s agenda were introduced by compère Peter Sargeant who talked about the music while the stage was re-organised for the various groupings of the first half. After the string ensemble had left the Symphonic Wind Band came to the stage, comprising flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, trumpets, horns, trombones, euphonium, tuba and percussionists. They began with Brant Karrick’s Memor Vita! A poignant piece written in memory of a boy who died of cancer at the age of 14. In it, some of the musicians sing acapella, part of a song – How Can I Keep From Singing – unusual if not unique for a wind ensemble but they all sang beautifully. This lively celebration of life is full of vibrant rhythms and engaging tunes. The combination of wind and brass produced plenty of ear-pleasing harmonies.

More stage adjustments saw a range of percussion instruments taking centre stage in readiness for the arrival of Jake Baum for Monti’s Czardas arranged by Gert Bomhof. The rich and exhilarating rhythms of Hungarian dance music were vividly and dexterously brought to life by Baum on the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel. Some might remember selections from this piece in Lady Gaga’s song Alejandro. The melodies we heard were memorable; tunes we have often heard before. In the fastly-paced Friska, Baum was able to show off his considerable talent as a percussionist. The piece illicted sustained applause and ended the first half of tonight’s programme.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Painting by Barbara Krafft
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Painting by Barbara Krafft

The story behind Mozart’s Requiem will be remembered by some from the film Amadeus (1984) directed by Milos Forman, written by Peter Shaffer and starring Tom Hulce. In it we saw the 35 year-old composer, on his death bed, dictating the score of his Requiem to Salieri, his life-long rival. Terminally ill, the young composer died before he could complete what many would say was his greatest masterpiece, a work shrouded in myth and fable not least those manufactured by the playwright Alexander Pushkin and the composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Started in 1791, but never finished by Mozart, The Requiem Mass in D minor was conducted, in tonight’s performance, by Richard West with soloists Isabel Bridgeman (soprano), Joanne Edworthy (mezzo-soprano), David Morris (tenor) and Nicholas Crawley (bass-baritone). On stage all tiers of the choir stalls were filled with the members of the LES singers, serried ranks of children and youths supplemented by adult singers.

This great work of musical genius is a daunting challenge for experienced choirs and orchestras; to see it performed by a group of school children and students is astonishing and to hear it performed with eloquence and fully-powered solemnity is nothing short of stupendous. The whole evening was highly enjoyable and impressive but to take on the Requiem and deliver it with considerable ability is quite an achievement. The LES brought together their choir, Chesterton Cantamus and Burton Choristers, Loughborough Singers, and LHS’s year 7 singers. The Introitus and Kyrie won over the sizeable audience and then the Dies Irae. With its urgency and feverish string parts, the forces required from the choral parts are challenging, to create that sense of dread needed by this incredible piece of musical brilliance. Just as the Rex Tremendae calls for considerable resoluteness and stature to capture its feeling of majesty and awe. Tonight the huge forces marshalled in the DMH were magnificent and the concert was inspiring.

I was very pleased that the LES invited me tonight; being there was not just very enjoyable but revealed how far musical education has come (since I was at school) and what a wealth of talent there is in Leicestershire. A lot of my time is spent watching teenage musicians playing guitars and singing pop and rock songs; so, to see those of a similar age-group playing orchestral instruments and being part of a choral tradition was an exhilarating change to my usual routine. What tonight did for me is to re-affirm that our county has a deep fund of skills and abilities in its younger population than is acknowledged or recognised at national level; not as much as it deserves to be.

Post scriptum

The LES Music School has added to its reputation for excellence the accolade of being an All-Steinway partner, one of only 175 establishments worldwide and of 22 in the UK (only 13 of which are independent schools.)

Find out more about LES Music School.

See also:

Our review of Lord of the Flies at Curve.

News about music in 2016.